SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, Plan B Theatre closed their 20th anniversary season with their annual 24 hour theatre fest, SLAM. Five ten-minute plays, all written, directed, and rehearsed within twenty-four hours by seasoned Plan B artists (and a few new faces) were presented to a large audience at the Rose Wagner theatre. In the past, SLAM has produced both silly entertainment pieces and works with higher ideals (including a few plays, like Eric Samuelsen’s Miasma and Matthew Ivan Bennett’s Mesa Verde, that were later turned into full-length works). Friday’s performances were similarly diverse in subject and style, and with a devoted audience predisposed to have a good time, all could be considered a success.
Producer Jerry Rapier opened the show by explaining the SLAM “process” to the audience: on Friday night five playwrights, five directors and fifteen actors met at the theatre. The playwrights were shown the stage properties that could be used in their plays and were given a title and image to inspire their work. They then drew the names of three actors that would be bringing the scripts to life. It was only on Saturday morning, after the ten-minute plays were written, that it was revealed that every play had the same title, Control_Alt_Delete, and that each playwright had been given a similar image of a slightly distorted and manipulated photograph of the view outside of a car window. At this time, each participating director chose one of these images and was assigned the play to direct which had been inspired by that image. The director and actors began their long day’s work of staging the play to be presented to the audience only twenty-three hours after the process of creation had begun.
For each performance, the image assigned to it was projected on a screen behind the playing space, which was inhabited by only a few set pieces: two stools, two benches, and a large cardboard box. Any similarities between the plays ended with these production elements, and much of the audience’s delight stemmed from the individual creative process of the playwrights who had shaped such diverse works from nearly identical starting points.
First to be staged was Eric Samuelsen’s Control_Alt_Delete, directed by Marcine Lake and excellently acted by Joe Debevc, John Graham, and Christy Summerhays. In the play, set somewhere in the frozen wild, a professor of environmental science greets a middle-school teacher who has come to gather research for a book he is writing. It is with disappointment and disgust that she discovers his book is about thousands of rubber toys washed from a cargo ship some years ago and subsequently carried by drifts and tides all over the world. This “migration” is considered too trivial for the professor who is more concerned by the oceanic toxins from the plastic of the toys that are killing endangered species. It is only with the help and insight of the professor’s assistant that she comes to realize how the middle school teacher might be of use to her, and the two proceed to convince the writer to broaden the focus of his book to include the evils of environmental pollution. Characteristic of Samuelsen’s work, the play seriously and humorously interrogates current events. Under Lake’s direction, the seriousness of the subject was given appropriate weight, and the added humor was taken to silly proportions.
Julie Jensen’s Control_Alt_Delete was a meta-theatrical delight. Directed by Kirt Bateman and starring Teri Cowan, April Fossen, and Andy Rindlisbach, the play included inside-jokes for the regular Plan B audience and plentiful theatrical allusions for the well-versed playgoer. It opened with two women commenting on the photograph projected on the screen at the back of the stage. There is an indication that it is a photograph of the moon, and the two muse at what type of play would have the moon for its setting before entering into a verbal spar integrating lines and plots from other plays. The audience assumes that the two are competing actresses before one reveals that she has played a throne in King Lear. It becomes evident that the two are both benches, versatile set pieces that have been creatively utilized in a number of plays. After this revelation, a theatre set designer appears, and the two settle into their position as furniture pieces. The set designer proceeds to give a lesson to an unseen class about distressing furniture. There is much humor as he decides which bench should be chosen for the distressing demonstration before giving the masochistically happy selected bench a beating. The dialogue and physicality in the play brought much laughter from the audience who was also privy to Jensen’s implication that all theatre practitioners really are slightly masochistic.
Jennifer Nii’s Control_Alt_Delete brought gravity back to the stage. Directed by Larry West and starring Tyson Baker, Jay Perry, and Yolanda Wood, the ten-minute play was about an ill gay man who is reunited with his estranged brother and sister-in-law when they come to see to his arrangements for living and medical care. Although the couple assumes that their brother has been deserted following his pancreatic cancer diagnosis, they soon learn that he was the one that broke things off with his lover because he had hoped to spare him the pain of watching him suffer and die from the illness. The two try to convince their brother to tell his long-time partner the truth, and in the process, the three engage in an argument about the nature of familial and romantic love and acceptance. In the midst of the poignant dialogue there were moments of comic relief, and it is likely that the very skilled Jennifer Nii could develop this short work into a quality full-length play if she were careful to avoid the trappings of the now-familiar sick-gay-man dramatic storyline.
Kathleen Cahill clearly found the primary inspiration for her ten minute play in the title. Directed by Tracy Callahan and starring Stephanie Howell, Topher Rasmussen and Latoya Rhodes, Cahill’s Control_Alt_Delete was an absurd(ist) take on what happens inside a computer going haywire. Two characters who seem unknowingly lifted from their unbalanced lives attempt to explain their stories to each other and the audience. One is fixated on her repeated inability to complete a rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” during an audition and the other must speedily, and almost incomprehensively, share the story of her broken marriage. The two try to understand and help one another but seem oddly controlled by the box-wearing man behind them. He informs them that he is the one who invented the “control_alt_delete” function in his youth when he was frustrated with his inability to reset his computer. The two women debate this possibility before one convinces the other that she does have the power to successfully complete her audition. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is then beautifully performed for the audience, and it is evident that the controlling man has enabled peace to be restored. Cahill’s script humorously brings the life the frustration of the often-incomprehensible behavior of technology.
Matthew Ivan Bennett’s Control_Alt_Delete, directed by Kay Shean and starring Carleton Blueford, Mark Fossen, and Deena Marie Manzanares, was the last performance of the evening. A play primarily about the need to rekindle the romantic spontaneity between a husband and wife, it relies heavily on sexual humor. The husband enters the domestic setting to find that his wife has rearranged the furniture in preparation for a house call from a sex therapist. Dr. E.Z. soon arrives to flirt with the skeptical husband’s wife before he asks them to engage in ridiculous visualization exercises to aid in the release of their controlling inhibitions. The play ends when the jealous husband fully embraces the visualization exercise to share his fantasy of riding a horse into a pool of spinach artichoke dip, which succeeds in igniting the passions of his wife. With its ludicrous sexual insinuations and suggestive physicality on stage, the play would likely be wildly popular on college campuses. This is not to say that is wasn’t happily enjoyed by the audience on Saturday, for plenty of laughter greeted the actors, who seemed fully invested in their characters.
All together, the plays created an evening of delight and escape as the audience mused on the wonderful creative process and the great feat of the artists that exhaustively worked to create these unique works of live theatre. It was a fitting way to end Plan B’s 20th anniversary season and to introduce the line-up for its 21st. A free staged reading of A Doll’s House, translated by Eric Samuelsen will kick things off in August. Part of the SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES, Plan B is partnering with the American Civil Liberties union of Utah and the Planned Parenthood Action Council of Utah for this production. The first fully-staged production will be Lady MacBeth by Aden Ross followed by The Third Crossing by Debora Threedy and The Scarlet Letter, adapted from Nathaniel Hawthorne by Jennifer Nii. Of course, their season will end with another SLAM production–it’s only a year away!